Grown at Home
By Heidi Beirich with Brian Levin
AMIR ABDEL MALIK ALI
BORN | 1958
CURRENT LOCATION | Oakland, Calif.
In March, several hundred people turned out to protest a fundraising dinner for an Islamic charity in Yorba Linda, Calif. The gathering turned into an ugly Muslim-bashing scene when some of the protesters broke off and starting yelling insults at attendees — insults like “Muhammad was a child molester” and “You’re a terrorist.” One of the two speakers whose presence sparked the demonstration was Amir Abdel Malik Ali — a charismatic imam who promotes anti-Semitism, violence and conspiracy theories that blame the U.S. government and Jews for attacks by Islamic terrorists.
Ali leads the Masjid al Islam mosque in Oakland and has for more than a decade been a leader in the radical As-Sabiqun, or “vanguard,” movement. He’s a frequent speaker on college campuses, particularly in California, who stirs controversy with his nakedly anti-Semitic views and rhetorical support for terrorism.
Born Derek Gilliam, Ali is an alumnus of San Francisco State University and a former member of the Nation of Islam (NOI), a black nationalist organization listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center due, in part, to its virulent anti-Semitism.
Although neither Ali nor his mosque have been tied to criminality or terrorism, he makes no secret of his goal for America. He wants a revolution to establish a strict Muslim theocracy. “The recipe for how we come to power: From an Islamic movement we graduate to an Islamic revolution, then to an Islamic state,” he told the Muslim Student Association West at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2004. “When it’s all over, the only one standing is gonna be us. … We must implement Islam as a totality … [where] Allah controls every place — the home, the classroom, the science lab, the halls of Congress.”
Ali, who has expressed his support for Hamas and Hezbollah, unabashedly praises violence in the form of suicide bombings aimed at civilians. “We will fight you until we are either martyred or victorious,” he told a 2006 audience about his preferred manner for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He’s at his most hyperbolic when talking about Jews. Using standard anti-Semitic canards, Ali argues that Jews run the U.S. government. “Barack [Obama] is owned, he’s owned by the Zionists,” he told listeners at a University of California, Irvine event in 2009. Ali asserts that Jews also run the media. “Liars, straight up liars, Rupert Murdoch Zionist Jew, Zionist Jew owns Fox News,” Ali said in a typical tirade in 2006.
Ali has repeatedly said that Zionist Jews plotted with the U.S. government to stage the 9/11 attacks. “You know what I’m saying, because they’re [Zionists or their supporters] the ones who did it anyway,” Ali said during his speech at UC Irvine in 2009. In 2007, Ali said that Zionist Jews were also behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. “They do things to make people think that it’s Muslims when it is actually them behind the scenes.”
One of Ali’s more bizarre theories is that Obama’s former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, formulated the recently enacted Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act as part of a plot to criminally sanction people who criticize Israel, Zionist Jews and the accepted version of the Nazi Holocaust. “If you talk about the disproportionate numbers of Jews, Zionist Jews, in the media, in finance and foreign policy, that’s a crime, that’s a crime,” Ali said at UC Irvine in 2009.
The federal hate crime law, of course, does not punish hateful speech, which is protected by the First Amendment.
ABU MANSOOR AL-AMRIKI (OMAR SHAFIK HAMMAMI)
BORN | 1984
CURRENT LOCATION | Somalia
Editor’s note: Al-Amriki was killed in Somalia on Sept. 12, 2013, in an ambush apparently ordered by the leader of al-Shabaab.
Omar Hammami was an intellectually gifted, popular teen in a small Gulf Coast town in Alabama who once was compared by a classmate to the mischievous, coming-of-age movie hero “Ferris Bueller.” He dated one of the prettiest girls in school, became class president as a sophomore and seemed poised for a bright future — until he became Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, international terrorist.
Now, at 27, he’s the public face of one of the most barbaric terrorist organizations in the world — the Somalia-based al-Shabaab, a group whose members in 2008 stoned to death a 13-year-old rape victim in a stadium filled with spectators.
And he’s a wanted man, under federal indictment for terrorist activities. He’s known for releasing videos with English-language rap songs intended to promote jihad to Western youth. The Anti-Defamation League says that al-Amriki uses anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli rhetoric to justify violent attacks against Jews, Israel and the U.S.
But not only does al-Amriki — whose new name means “The American” — play a major propaganda and recruiting role for al-Shabaab, he apparently commands guerrilla forces in combat against Somali soldiers, organizes terrorist attacks and plots strategy with Al Qaeda operatives.
His remarkable journey from the sleepy town of Daphne, Ala., nestled along Mobile Bay, to jihadist stardom in Somalia illustrates the growing and unsettling — importance of Muslim-American extremists in the global network of Al Qaeda-linked terrorists.
“To have an American citizen that has risen to this kind of a rank in a terrorist organization — we have not seen that before,” a senior U.S. law enforcement official told The New York Times in 2010.
Al-Amriki was born to an unlikely set of parents. His father was a Muslim immigrant from Syria. His mother was a Southern Baptist. He grew up as a Christian, a well-liked, outgoing boy known for his personal magnetism.
But after his sophomore year in high school, things began to change. Following visits to Syria, al-Amriki began to doubt his commitment to Christianity. After converting to Islam in his junior year, he swore at his English teacher for being Jewish and tried to choke a student who interrupted him while he was reciting the Koran. Skipping his senior year of high school, likely due to a suspension, Hammami enrolled early at the University of South Alabama, where he took to wearing ankle-length gowns used by Gulf Arabs and adopted a strict personal code of conduct. He dropped out in 2002.
After moving to Toronto, Canada, where he married a Somali woman, he became more deeply troubled about the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and, apparently, more radical as he networked within the city’s large Muslim community. He then moved to Alexandria, Egypt. One day, he left home and later told his wife he was in Somalia.
He first surfaced publicly in October 2007, when the Arabic TV network Al Jazeera aired a report about the links between Al Qaeda and militants in Somalia, who were fighting to install a radical Islamic state. Al-Amriki was described as “a fighter” and “military instructor,” but his face was concealed.
In April 2009, al-Amriki reportedly showed his face for the first time, appearing in a sophisticated 30-minute recruitment video with anti-American hip-hop music and images of Osama bin Laden. It depicted al-Amriki leading al-Shabaab militants in an ambush of Somali forces.
One of his rap songs, “Make Jihad With Me,” is featured on a video that shows al-Amriki calling for attacks on the U.S.: “Attack America now! Martyrdom or victory. …We are wiping Israel clear off the globe!”
U.S. officials believe several Americans charged with terror-related offenses have been influenced by al-Amriki’s recruitment propaganda. Authorities arrested two American citizens who had watched his videos in June 2010 as they attempted to board separate flights to Egypt with the intention of joining al-Shabaab in Somalia. Also, Shirwa Ahmed, believed to be the first American suicide bomber, appeared in one of al-Amriki’s videos before blowing himself up as part of a coordinated vehicle bomb attack in October 2009 that killed more than a dozen people in northern Somalia.
Earlier this year, Somali authorities said al-Amriki might have been killed during fighting with government forces. But he soon resurfaced with two new songs that appeared on the Internet — including one, “Send Me a Cruise,” in which he begs for martyrdom.
THE IMMODERATE IMAM
BORN | 1951
CURRENT LOCATION | Washington, D.C.
The Islamic Center of Washington is perhaps the most famous mosque in America. President Dwight D. Eisenhower attended its opening, and 44 years later President George W. Bush spoke there after the 9/11 attacks in an effort to reassure an angry American populace that Muslims were not the enemy. The ornate structure, with its 162-foot minaret, presents a striking picture along the capital’s lush Embassy Row.
Each Friday, rain or shine, Mohammad al-Asi holds a prayer service on a sidewalk outside its white limestone walls. But he’s not affiliated with the mosque — the country’s largest — at all. In fact, he was ousted as its imam in 1983, after only two years of service, because of his radical views and outspoken support for Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Al-Asi has long been on the radar screen of U.S. intelligence officials, who consider him a close ally, if not an agent, of Iran.
Today, the longtime Washington-area resident continues to voice support for the authoritarian Islamic regime in Iran. He’s one of the most prominent members of the Iranian-oriented Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought, a global network of activists that promotes anti-Semitic, anti-American and anti-Israeli views through its speakers and its online magazine Crescent.
A native of Grand Rapids, Mich., al-Asi left the U.S. for Lebanon at age 11, returning as an adult and eventually serving as a pharmacy technician in the Air Force.
During his brief tenure at the Islamic Center of Washington, al-Asi referred to the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia as “the great Satan.” He was forced out by the mosque’s Saudi-dominated board of directors, according to the Washington Post.
Al-Asi then moved on to the Islamic Education Center in Potomac, Md., where he stayed until 1997. In 1994, he wrote an open letter to Khomeini swearing his allegiance “to you as leader of the Muslims.” U.S. intelligence officials believed the Center, which was funded by the New York-based Alavi Foundation, was a vehicle of the Iranian government to obtain information on U.S. technology and on Iranians in the U.S., provide a gathering place for pro-Iranian activists, and promote Iranian interests. In 2009, the Obama Administration launched civil proceedings to seize the foundation’s assets, including the Center and a building in New York City. And in April 2010, the foundation’s president, Farshid Jahedi, was sentenced to three months in prison after pleading guilty to obstructing justice; FBI agents had seen him discarding shredded pertinent documents the day after he was issued a grand jury subpoena.
As do many of his fellow Islamic extremists, al-Asi devotes much of his energy to criticizing Jews and disseminating anti-Semitic propaganda. He contends that Jews are enemies of Islam who control the U.S. government, the American news media and the nation’s economic system.
Al-Asi promotes the lie that Jews, particularly those in the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, were behind the 9/11 attacks. Shortly after 9/11, he appeared at the National Press Club with fellow conspiracy theorists Alim Musa and New Black Panther Party leader Malik Zulu Shabazz. He called the attacks a “grand strike against New York and Washington” and pushed the falsehood that Jews were forewarned. “There’s 4,000 to 5,000 Israeli Jews who were supposed to be in those two buildings on Sept. 11,” he said. “Why didn’t they go to work?”
In 2007, he wrote in the Crescent: “Considering the sort of behavior and attitude coming from Jewish religious figures, it is rather less surprising to see the actions of a secular Jewish state. It is precisely what qualifies Yahud [Jews] for displacement, dispossession and depression. That is why they have been stamped with shame, mortification and the wrath of the Almighty.”
Al-Asi has other extremist connections as well. He co-lectured at his Islamic Education Center with notorious Swiss Holocaust denier Ahmed Huber. Huber’s tapes were also sold there. Huber, who died in 2008, was a neo-Nazi and Muslim convert civilly sanctioned by the federal government in 2001 for his role in financing terrorism. Huber had met with individuals linked to Al Qaeda.
Editor’s note: Al-Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone attack in Yemen on Sept. 30, 2011.
Three days after American commandos killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, U.S. Special Forces launched a drone attack in a remote region of Yemen in an effort to kill Al Qaeda operatives there. The principle target of the missile strike: Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical, U.S.-born Muslim cleric who has been officially designated by the U.S. government as a global terrorist.
Al-Awlaki apparently survived the attack. He is believed to be in hiding in Yemen, where he has been sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison for inciting a Muslim teen to kill a French citizen.
Born in New Mexico, al-Awlaki is a leader in Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). He’s been associated with a number of known terrorists and linked to at least 15 plots, including the attempted car bombing of New York City’s Times Square in May 2010 by a Pakistani American. Two of the 9/11 hijackers met with him at his mosques in California and Virginia, according to The 9/11 Commission Report. He also exchanged E-mails with alleged Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan.
President Obama has authorized al-Awlaki’s assassination without any judicial proceedings, a rare order targeting an American citizen. Al-Awlaki’s father challenged the order in court, but a federal judge dismissed the suit in December, ruling the father had no standing — though the judge wrote that the suit raised “stark and perplexing questions” about using executive power to target U.S. citizens.
In July 2010, the Treasury Department announced that it had frozen al-Awlaki’s U.S. assets and prohibited transactions with him. “He has involved himself in every aspect of the supply chain of terrorism — fundraising for terrorist groups, recruiting and training operatives, and planning and ordering attacks on innocents,” Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey said in a written statement.
The New York Times calls al-Awlaki “perhaps the most prominent English-speaking advocate of violent jihad against the U.S.” He uses the Internet to reach large global audiences with radical sermons that mix religious stories and incitement to violence. He has promoted the conspiracy theory that Jews were behind the 9/11 attacks and, according to the Anti-Defamation League, he “reviles Israel and Jews.”
U.S. authorities consider him an especially dangerous terrorist recruiter because of his excellent English language skills, his familiarity with U.S. culture, and his persuasive advocacy.
Al-Awlaki is the son of a prominent Yemeni figure who once served as the country’s agriculture minister and who is a close associate of authoritarian President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Though born in the U.S, al-Awlaki moved to Yemen at age 7 and stayed there until he returned to pursue undergraduate and graduate studies at state colleges in Colorado and California.
He claims to have been a nonviolent moderate until the U.S. invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. “We’re totally against what the terrorists have done,” he told the Washington Times in October 2001. The 9/11 Commission, however, explored suspicions that he had been a secret Al Qaeda agent in the U.S. long before the attacks.
Al-Awlaki has held positions at various mosques in Denver, San Diego and Falls Church, Va. In California, he was twice arrested for soliciting prostitutes and pleaded guilty to related charges in 1996 and 1997. Prior to 9/11, two of the hijackers attended his Rabat mosque in San Diego, where authorities later surmised he had served as their spiritual advisor. He may have also met Hassan, the Fort Hood shooter, while working at the Virginia mosque.
In 2002, he moved to Britain after U.S. authorities stepped up their efforts against him. In 2004, he left Britain for Yemen. While in Yemen, with prodding from the U.S., he was incarcerated for 18 months. It was after that period that he publicly identified with Al Qaeda and became its most inspirational figure in the recruitment of disaffected westerners.
ADAM YAHIYE GADAHN
BORN | 1978
CURRENT LOCATION | Pakistan
The strange odyssey of Adam Yahiye Gadahn, from son of a hippie goat farmer with Jewish roots to spokesman for Al Qaeda and a spot on the FBI’s “Most Wanted Terrorists” list, is something of a case study in the small but growing realm of homegrown jihadists.
In 2006, the Muslim convert gained the distinction of becoming the first American since 1952 to be charged with treason. That charge followed a federal indictment a year earlier for providing material support to Al Qaeda. Gadahn is now thought to be hiding in Pakistan, and the FBI is offering a $1 million reward for his capture.
Since 2004, when he emerged as one of Al Qaeda’s chief English-language spokespersons, Gadahn, also known as Azzam al-Amriki (Azzam the American), has appeared in a series of jihadist videos aimed at U.S. audiences. In the first, he says that his new allegiance is to “a movement waging war on America,” whose goal is “killing large numbers of Americans.” He uses anti-Semitic rhetoric to justify attacks against Israel and the U.S., warning that that “the streets of America shall run red with blood.”
In his videos, Gadahn “exudes the zealotry of a convert, and of youth,” wrote Raffi Khatchadourian in The New Yorker. “Sometimes, his syntax is so baroque, his sentiment so earnest, that he sounds like a character from ‘The Lord of the Rings.’”
Shortly before the fifth anniversary of 9/11, Gadahn spoke for nearly 45 minutes in an Al Qaeda documentary entitled “An Invitation to Islam.” The video begins with an introduction by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who recently succeeded the slain Osama bin Laden as head of Al Qaeda. In another video this June, Gadahn urges Americans to kill their own: “America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms. … So what are you waiting for?” In that video, he describes President Obama as “treacherous, bloodthirsty and narrow-minded.”
In a 2009 Internet video, he discussed his Jewish heritage, saying his grandfather “was a Zionist and zealous supporter of the usurper entity and a prominent member of a number of Zionist hate organizations.”
Gadahn was born Adam Pearlman in Oregon and raised on a small farm in the Southern California town of Winchester. His mother was Catholic. His father, Philip Pearlman, was the son of a respected Jewish urologist, Dr. Carl Pearlman, an Anti-Defamation League board member and supporter of Israel.
In the 1960s, Gadahn’s father was a prominent counterculture figure and musician. He and his wife raised and homeschooled their children on an isolated goat farm, where they produced their own electricity and had no telephone or running water in their home.
Gadahn, who was a fan of death metal music as a youth, developed a difficult relationship with his parents. In June 1995, he moved to Santa Ana, Calif., to live with his paternal grandparents. Once there, the 16-year-old explored religion on the Web and turned to Islam.
In November 1995, Gadahn converted to Islam at a mosque in Garden Grove but was later kicked out after becoming involved with extremists. In 1997, he pleaded guilty to assault charges after punching a mosque official, but never completed his required community service.
Shortly after that episode, Gadahn left for Pakistan. While there, he married an Afghani and reportedly had a child. He also began serving as an Al Qaeda translator. He spent time with Abu Zubaydah, who helped shuttle recruits from Pakistan to terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. And he met Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind, who reportedly tried to recruit Gadahn to blow up gas stations in Maryland. Gadahn declined, saying he was newly married and his wife was pregnant.
Editor’s note: Khan was killed in a U.S. drone attack in Yemen on Sept. 30, 2011.
Last summer, Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen launched a slick English-language, online magazine devoted to inspiring homegrown jihadists in the West. Its name, in fact, was Inspire. U.S. officials, alarmed by its sophistication and how-to instructions for potential terrorists, figured it was the work of Samir Khan, a young jihadist blogger now living in Yemen.
It wasn’t Khan’s first trailblazing foray into online publishing.
Before the 9/11 attacks, and even for a few years afterward, it was virtually impossible to find fully functioning English-language websites devoted to radical Islam and Al Qaeda’s fight against the West. That changed, however, thanks in large part to Khan, a U.S. citizen born in Saudi Arabia to Pakistani parents.
In 2005, while still a teen, Khan launched a blog called “InshallahShaheed” from his parents’ house in Charlotte, N.C. Among the offerings were translations of anti-U.S. screeds and links to secret websites where readers could obtain what The New York Times called “the latest blood-drenched insurgent videos from Iraq.”
Khan left for Yemen in October 2009, and the first issue of Inspire appeared the following July. The magazine has featured instructional articles like “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom” and another describing how to use a pickup truck to “mow down the enemies of Allah.” It also has carried articles purportedly written by Osama bin Laden and the radical cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki, a leader in the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
In April, the FBI’s assistant director for counterterrorism, Mark F. Giuliano, said that AQAP figures like Khan and Al-Awlaki represent a more serious threat than the older Al Qaeda organization, because they “understand our culture, our limitations, our security protocols, and our vulnerabilities.” Their ability to exploit social media also makes them particularly dangerous. “They realize the importance and value of reaching English speaking audiences and are using the group’s marketing skills to inspire individual attacks within the homeland,” Giuliano said. “In many cases they are attempting to provide them with the knowledge to do so, without having to travel or train abroad.”
While Khan today is a vital part of AQAP’s communications apparatus, he started out much like a regular kid from Queens.
Khan’s family moved to New York from Saudi Arabia when he was 7. As a teen, he wore baggy pants and talked in local slang like his peers. In August 2001, at age 15, he reportedly attended a summer program run by members of Tanzeem-e-Islami, a radical group based in Pakistan with a long history of anti-Semitism (it now operates in the U.S. as the Islamic Organization of North America). Khan became a devoted Muslim, praying regularly and dressing modestly.
In 2003, he began blogging. But his earlier posts advocated nonviolence. In 2004, Khan’s family moved to Charlotte, where he launched InshallahShaheed with posts that consisted mainly of materials about Tanzeem-e-Islami. He soon became a conduit for Al Qaeda and an unabashed supporter of violent jihad. He also was a catalyst in the creation of a series of English online extremist essays called “Jihad Recollections.”
Khan once consulted an attorney so that he could avoid running afoul of the law with his Web postings. He may have avoided prosecution, but he lost his job at a billing services company that contracts with the federal government after a Charlotte TV station publicized his activities. Now, he’s a full-fledged AQAP operative seeking nothing less than a global Islamic caliphate.
In the October 2010 issue of Inspire, Khan writes that the U.S. must be defeated in order to “implant Islam all over the world.” He adds: “I am acutely aware that body parts have to be torn apart, skulls have to be crushed and blood has to be spilled.”
FROM JEWISH TO JIHADIST
BORN | 1968
CURRENT LOCATION | New York City
Yousef al-Khattab is an unlikely Al Qaeda supporter. Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., as Joseph Leonard Cohen, he converted from Judaism to Islam while living in the Middle East. Then he moved on to advocating the destruction of Israel and cheering acts of terror against the U.S. as an Internet provocateur while working as a pedicab driver in New York City.
Al-Khattab is best known for co-founding the Revolution Muslim (RM) organization in 2007, with fellow Muslim convert Younes Abdullah Muhammad. The group became known for issuing a threat against the creators of the animated TV sitcom “South Park” for the suggestion in one episode that a figure wearing a bear costume was the Prophet Muhammad.
According to a 2011 FBI affidavit, RM was formed for the purpose of “establishing Islamic law in the U.S., destroying Israel, and taking al-Qaeda’s message to the masses.” The website has been a conduit for messages from extremist clerics, including American-born Al Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki.
Both al-Khattab and his RM co-founder previously were associated with the Islamic Thinkers Society, an American affiliate of a banned British militant group called al-Muhajiroun, founded by radical cleric Omar Bakri Muhammad and described by the New York Police Department as “anti-Western, anti-democratic, anti-U.S., pro Al Qaeda.”
RM had a small membership but an influential, jihadist website, which often featured gory scenes, including photos of the bodies of Palestinian children. It also contained anti-Semitic posts, including one by al-Awlaki, who wrote that Jews “have a hidden agenda” and have infiltrated every government in the world.
The website’s violent messages have been tied to a string of terrorist plotters. In October 2010, NPR reported that of two dozen homegrown Islamic terror plots in the previous year, RM was linked to one-third. The perpetrators of those plots included Pennsylvania convert Colleen LaRose, or “Jihad Jane,” who pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of Dutch cartoonist Lars Vilks; Virginia Muslim convert Zachary Chesser, who was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison in February for threatening the creators of “South Park” and for his support of the Somalia-based Al Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab; and Antonio Martinez, who pleaded guilty in January to a plot to bomb a military recruiting station in Catonsville, Md.
Al-Khattab still has an active blog. Its “humor” has included a puppet show depicting the beheading of Jewish Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Al-Khattab also has lavished praise on Osama bin Laden and on alleged Fort Hood shooter and former Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, dubbed an “officer and gentleman.”
Al-Khattab has a deep-seated hatred for Orthodox Jews. Even before he founded RM, he came to the attention of New York authorities because of a 2002 post about a local rabbi. He urged his followers to “contact” the rabbi and posted his picture and address so that he could “understand what it’s like to suffer under lies.” In a similar vein, al-Khattab posted a video on RM’s website that ended with gunshots and included detailed information about the Orthodox Jewish sect Chabad-Lubavitch’s headquarters. The video appeared only weeks after Pakistani terrorists massacred 164 people, including six people at the Chabad Center, in Mumbai, India, in 2008.
Though he has written that he grew up in a secular Jewish family, in 1988 al-Khattab entered a yeshiva, or Orthodox Jewish religious school. After marrying a Moroccan Jew studying in New York, he moved to Israel. At age 31, he met online a Muslim from the United Arab Emirates and decided to read the Koran. He converted to Islam in 1999, moved with his wife to East Jerusalem, then to the West Bank, then to Morocco and finally back to New York.
Al-Khattab resigned as “Amir” of RM in 2009 and now says the site was “an idiotic thing” that served as a “bug light for Muslim misfits.” He told CNN in December, “I regret anybody that would hurt an American civilian.” It’s hard to know if these sentiments are real, given that his current blog still praises bin Laden.
THE ‘BRAINS AND WHIP’
YOUNES ABDULLAH MUHAMMAD
BORN | 1978
CURRENT LOCATION | Morocco
In November 2010, a young Latino man who had converted to Islam was arrested after trying to detonate what turned out to be a fake, FBI-supplied car bomb outside of a military recruiting station in Maryland. Authorities noted that one of the extremist websites the suspect had been reading was that of Revolution Muslim (RM), a tiny New York group co-founded by Younes Abdullah Muhammad.
Abdullah Muhammad, considered by the other co-founder as the “brains and whip” behind the now-defunct RM, was arrested on May 27 in Morocco and awaits extradition to the U.S. He was indicted by U.S. prosecutors earlier in May for communicating threats, via the RM website, against the creators of “South Park” after the animated comedy series suggested in an episode that a figure inside a bear costume was the Prophet Muhammad. A government affidavit cites a 2009 interview with CNN in which Abdullah Muhammad says, “We’re commanded to terrorize the disbelievers.”
The RM website, known for glorifying and justifying acts of terrorism like the Fort Hood shooting, has been implicated in influencing other homegrown jihadists. In addition to operating the website, the group of just five to 10 members was known for distributing anti-Semitic material outside of mosques in New York City. One of its members, Zachary Chesser is now serving 25 years in prison for the “South Park” threat and for attempting to travel to Somalia to join the terrorist group al-Shabaab.
Some Muslim groups have suggested that RM was a false-flag operation designed to make Muslims look bad. The group, and its website, was disbanded after the “South Park” controversy and rebranded as Islam Policy.
A convert to Islam, Abdullah Muhammad is a former Brooklyn resident and Grateful Dead fan previously known as Jesse Curtis Morton. He reportedly holds an M.A. degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
Abdullah Muhammad, called RM’s “most articulate spokesman” by the Anti-Defamation League, co-founded the group with Yousef al-Khattab in 2007.
Both men had previous affiliations with the Islamic Thinkers Society, an American affiliate of a banned British militant group called al-Muhajiroun, founded by radical cleric Omar Bakri Muhammad and described by the New York Police Department as “anti-Western, anti-democratic, anti-U.S., pro Al Qaeda.”
In “By All Means Necessary,” a mission statement for RM released in 2008, Abdullah Muhammad lays out the organization’s vision for the establishment of an Islamic state and a response to the West’s “War on Islam.” The statement praises Osama bin Laden and the “19 blessed souls [who on September 11, 2001] sacrificed their selves [sic] in a preemptive and retaliatory attack on America’s military, economic and government capitals.”
The website once mocked the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by Al Qaeda and posted a prayer calling for the murder of other Jews.
When al-Khattab left RM in December 2009, an interim director took over until Abdullah Muhammad removed him in April 2010. By mid-2010, when Muhammad returned to the helm of RM, scrutiny from law enforcement and the intelligence community had increased.
In November 2010, RM’s website was removed from the Web after officials in the United Kingdom objected to a post glorifying the attacker of Parliament member Stephen Timms. Roshonara Choudhry stabbed Timms in May 2010 because of his support for the war in Iraq; Timms survived. Choudhry said that she was inspired by RM as well as online sermons by Anwar al-Awlaki.
Almost immediately, Abdullah Muhammad set up a new website, Islam Policy, in an attempt to rebrand the group as an Islamic policy think tank.
ABDUL ALIM MUSA
BORN | 1945
CURRENT LOCATION | Washington, D.C.
The Masjid Al-Islam Mosque sits in a quiet neighborhood in southeast Washington, just a short distance from Capitol Hill. From here, Imam Abdul Alim Musa leads a small, radical movement known as As-Sabiqun that calls for Islamic revolution to replace the U.S. government.
The organization, founded by Musa in 1995, has branches in Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, Calif., San Diego and Philadelphia. As-Sabiqun’s website says its “paramount goal” is the “establishment of Islam as a complete way of life in America.”
The anti-Semitic, conspiracy-mongering cleric, who has presided over the mosque for more than two decades, was born Clarence Reams in Arkansas. He embraced Islam while imprisoned on federal drug trafficking charges in Leavenworth, Kan.
On the mosque’s website, Musa describes a decades-long odyssey to radical Islam. Musa says he grew up in Oakland during the 1960s and was a prominent drug dealer. Later, he set up a drug smuggling operation in Colombia, where he says he “uncovered” the CIA’s involvement in drug trafficking. After being arrested on drug and assault charges, he fled to Algeria. There, he met “several exiled Black Panther leaders” before returning to the U.S. to turn himself in.
While Musa maintains he wants change in the U.S. to come peacefully, he makes frequent exhortations to violent jihad on his website and in his speeches. He is a senior member of the extremist Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought, a pro-Iranian and pro-Hezbollah organization that distributes anti-Semitic material through its online magazine Crescent.
For Musa, the world is divided between oppressed Muslims and African Americans and a Western cabal led by the “biggest monster of our age, the Zionist American monster.” In 2009, he said that President Obama was put in power “by the American and Israeli lobby to escalate tension between black people and Muslims in the U.S.” Musa blames the U.S. and “Zionists” for the 9/11 attacks, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the attempted airliner bombing over Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009. For Musa, Osama bin Laden is worthy of admiration and the late Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini is a “hero.”
Musa has met with Iranian leader and Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom he often compliments. He is tied to anti-Semite Imam Abdel Malik Ali, who preaches a similar message from his mosque in Oakland.
In 2001, Musa, al-Asi and the New Black Panther Party’s Malik Shabazz held a bizarre event at the National Press Club that was aired by C-SPAN. Musa blamed Zionists for oppressing African-Americans and Muslims, while joining the other speakers in shifting blame for 9/11 away from Al Qaeda.
In 2009, Musa was one of 16 individuals banned from the United Kingdom for fostering extremism or hatred.
Musa is an outspoken supporter of radical Muslims accused of violence in the U.S. He disseminated a flyer saying that the alleged Fort Hood shooter, Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, was a “target of psychological warfare.” He also defends former Black Panther H. Rap Brown, now Jamil Abdullah al-Amin, as the target of a vast government conspiracy. Brown is serving a life sentence for shooting two African-American sheriff’s deputies, killing one, in Fulton County, Ga., in March 2000.
THE ENGLISH TEACHER
BORN | 1943
CURRENT LOCATION | Kingsville, Md.
He teaches at the oldest of the nation’s historically black universities, an institution that should know a thing or two about prejudice. But Kaukab Siddique’s own intolerance last year sparked a debate about where to draw the line on academic freedom.
During a pro-Palestinian Labor Day rally in Washington, D.C., in 2010, Siddique railed against Jews and called for the destruction of Israel. “We must stand united to defeat, to destroy, to dismantle Israel, if possible by peaceful means,” he said. “Dear brothers and sisters, unite and rise up against this hydra-headed monster which calls itself Zionism.”
The remarks, caught on tape and later broadcast by the Christian Broadcasting Network, prompted a storm of protest from state legislators and others who called for Siddique’s firing from Lincoln University in southeastern Pennsylvania.
It was an embarrassment for Lincoln, whose graduates include famed writer Langston Hughes and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. University officials condemned the speech as “an insult to all decent people” but said that Siddique, an associate professor who teaches literature and mass communications, could not fired because he was tenured and was expressing his private views in a public forum.
But the episode prompted critics to unearth other anti-Semitic comments and writing by Siddique, a Muslim originally from Pakistan. There were plenty.
He has called the Holocaust a “hoax” and “the main source of funds for international Jewry … Israel’s milk cow.” He frequently invokes Holocaust denier David Irving as a historian despite a British judge having found Irving to be an “anti-Semite” who “has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favorable light.”
Siddique has also written: “The Jews are a small minority in America, yet they have taken over this country by devious and immoral means. They control the government, the media, education, the libraries, the book chains, the banks, Hollywood, Wall Street, Madison Avenue.”
Siddique leads a small but vocal Baltimore-area organization called Jamaat al-Muslimeen (JAM), or “group of Muslims,” that promotes Holocaust denial and anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. Siddique claims the group is “not against the Jews as a collective.” But a JAM-related Internet magazine edited by Siddique, called New Trend, has published articles by Muslim extremists and Holocaust deniers, including pieces in support of Irving.
Siddique was the chief organizer of JAM’s 2008 national conference in Baltimore, which featured a variety of extremist speakers, including Holocaust denier Mark Weber; anti-Semite Mark Glenn; Hesham Tillawi, a Palestinian-American whose TV show reportedly is a haven for Holocaust deniers and white supremacists; and Warith Deen Umar, an imam who said in 2009 that the Holocaust happened to the Jews “because they were serially disobedient to Allah.”
Siddique has not been accused of terrorist activities, but in late 2010, the Investigative Project on Terrorism reported that a man arrested for plotting to blow up an Army recruiting center in Maryland attended a mosque run by JAM. Siddique was listed as one of the mosque’s four trustees.
Siddique is also a longtime champion of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric. Siddique headed a committee to free the cleric, who is serving a life sentence in federal prison for seditious conspiracy for his role in terror plots targeting New York City-area tunnels, a bridge and the United Nations.